The earth moves at Wicks Manor
Farming heavy ground is not easy when it comes to autumn cereal establishment, especially these days where tight wheat/rape crop rotations and a swift turnaround between crops are increasingly under scrutiny in a bid to improve grass weed control. Work it too deep too early and the risk is drying out and a cloddy seedbed with poor pre-emergence spray efficacy or, at the opposite extreme, you can be left with several inches of surface pudding which can be difficult to get dry in a wet time. With drilling dates starting to be pushed back by the desire to leave as long a period between combining and drilling to get on top of those weed problems where possible, the risk of more tricky cultivating and drilling conditions increases and the need for more flexibility likewise.
Howies and Sons LLP of Wicks Manor is a mixed-enterprise farm producing arable and vegetable crops, as well as fattening pigs for their “Wicks Manor Pork” own brand which produces premium sausages, bacon and hams. With a wide range of cropping that includes wheat, spring and winter barley, oil seed rape, peas, beans, linseed, sweetcorn and squash - and over varying soil types - a cultivator was required that could fill a big role. Farming predominantly heavy ground around Tolleshunt Major, Maldon, Essex, the business was looking for a flexible tool which could not only stubble chit but also work both after a deeper cultivation as well as on the plough. ‘With a fair bit of ground to get over we needed something with a good work rate to be able to cultivate shallow enough to maximise volunteer and weed germination yet leave a weather-proof finish in case things turn inclement. We also need to keep up close behind the combine so that we maximise the lifespan of the stale seedbed and also make use of the soil moisture protected by the standing crop which is soon lost once the combine has been through and the stubble is exposed to the sun and wind’ explained Hamish Howie, Partner, Howies and Sons LLP.
With these criterion in mind, an Amazone Catros+ 12003-2TS compact disc harrow was sent down to Wicks Manor on evaluation ahead of the machine’s launch at the upcoming Agritechnica 2015 in Hannover last autumn. It was duly hooked up to the tractor and, cracking off in mid-July on some barley stubbles - and with dust spewing off the back of the Matrix wedge ring roller making it look as if the machine combo was on fire, the 12 metre wide Catros+ compact disc harrow was put to work. With caterpillar tracks and 525 hp under the bonnet, horsepower wasn’t a problem and the Challenger MT865C up-front made relatively light work of the job in hand: we say relatively light as the machine, when dropped into heavy dirt - and at full depth - and cracking on at 16 km/h, could make the crawler bark.
In the work zone, the 510mm concave serrated discs are mounted on individual arms via sprung-loaded rubber mounting blocks giving some stone protection and contour following within the section. Those sections, four in all, are subsequently attached to the main frame on a pivot and hydraulic accumulator system, known as ContourFrame, which ensures the optimum depth control of each individual disc even across that massive 12 metre span. Depth adjustment is carried out quickly and easily from ground level via four sets of spacer plates that can be swung round; this enables depths from 0 to 15cm to be set in seconds, and all without climbing up and into the machine to adjust. The discs utilise the well-proven oil-immersed twin-row bearing technology seen on Catros compact disc harrows since pussy was a kitten and which have proved to be incredibly long-lasting and reliable.
Standing out for praise was the new Matrix 650 KWM roller which acts both as a turning support on the headlands as well as depth control in the field and provides the means of reconsolidating those stale seedbeds, ‘The multi-section rubber toothed wedge rings created a firm, neat, even and finely crumbled finish that left us with a higher blackgrass plant germination than a conventional, more aggressively profiled roller which was a real plus as well as running blockage-free in all sorts of conditions’ commented Mr. Howie.
Easy folding, a transport width of just 3.0m, a hydraulically-braked transport axle on over-sized, wide-spaced flotation tyres and an overall height of under 4. 0 m that gave stability on the road, even when travelling at rea-sonable speeds were also positive points reported back now that this machine has more than 3,400 acres of work under its belt.
‘We were very impressed by the flexibility of the tool’ Mr. Howie goes on to comment ‘We used it behind the combine at about a third depth to work those stale seedbeds, followed up behind our disc and tined cultivator to make a seedbed and used at half to three-quarter depth on ploughed land, so a real all-rounder and yet lighter than our existing double press with leading tines. Its ability to cope with large amounts of trash, such as standing sweetcorn, was excellent’.
If you want to see the machine for yourself then Stand R33 at LAMMA 2016 is the place to come and check out the credentials of the all new Catros+ 12003-2TS, it does what it is designed to do, and with aplomb!